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Know thine enemy

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Mosquitoes pierce the upper layer of skin with a straw-like mouthpart, and release saliva which keeps the blood from coagulating.

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Mosquitoes pierce the upper layer of skin with a straw-like mouthpart, and release saliva which keeps the blood from coagulating. Photo Store

Meet the culicidae, otherwise known as the annoying, biting mosquito that is a nuisance to your summer.  

Although they can make your time spent relaxing on the deck aggravating, the mosquito is an interesting insect and one worth knowing how to combat.

There are about 3,000 species of mosquitoes in the world, of which 80 live in Canada. 

According to the City of Winnipeg’s insect control branch, Winnipeg has 39 different mosquito species.

Mosquitoes are slender, long-legged flies, belonging to the insect order Diptera. Their bodies are covered in scales, the colour and position of which are used to distinguish species. The fuzziness of the antennae determines sex: males have very fuzzy antennae while females have only a few hairs.

A mosquito’s wings beat between 300 to 600 times per second. This would explain that irritating buzzing sound you hear just before a mosquito lands on you. They fly at speeds between one and 1 1/2  miles per hour, making them a rather slow insect. If a race were held between butterflies and honeybees, nearly every other contestant would beat the pokey mosquito.

Mosquitoes are notorious for the female’s blood-eating habit which is necessary to mature their eggs. Although it is only the females that eat blood, all mosquitoes also require sugar meals, which they typically get from floral nectar. In the process, mosquitoes serve as pollinators and are important pollinators of orchids in the Arctic. Some species of mosquito are able to carry over enough nutrients from their larval stage to develop a batch of eggs without having to take a blood meal.

Although we commonly call them mosquito bites, mosquitoes are not really biting you at all. The mosquito pierces the upper layer of your skin with a straw-like mouthpart that allows her to search for a blood vessel. When she locates a vessel, the mosquito releases some of her saliva into the wound because it contains an anti-coagulant that keeps your blood flowing.  

Your immune system realizes something is going on, and histamine is produced to combat the foreign substance.  The histamine reaches the area under attack, causing blood vessels there to swell.  It is the action of the histamine that causes the red bump, or wheal.  But what about the itching?  When the blood vessels expand, nerves in the area become irritated by the swelling and you feel this irritation as an itchy sensation.

Mosquitoes can detect carbon dioxide from 75 feet away. Carbon dioxide, which humans and other animals produce, is the key signal to mosquitoes that a potential meal is near.  They have developed a keen sensitivity to CO2 in the air.  But, not all mosquito species feed on people. Some prefer other animals, and are no bother to us at all.  Culiseta melanura, for example, bites birds almost exclusively and rarely bites humans.

Mosquitoes, like all true flies, undergo complete metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The first three stages are aquatic, while the adult stage is aerial or terrestrial.  All mosquitoes require water to breed.

Some species can even breed in puddles left after a rainstorm.  Just a few inches of water is all it takes for a female to deposit her eggs.  Tiny mosquito larvae develop quickly in bird baths and eavestroughs. If you want to keep mosquitoes under control around your home, you need to be vigilant about dumping any standing water every few days.  So, next time it rains, take action to eliminate the standing water and reduce the number of mosquitoes in the neighbourhood.

Charlene Kroll is a community correspondent for North Kildonan. She can be contacted at krollcharlene@gmail.com.

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